Breasted ONE – reflections for Mothers’ Day – John 14:1-14

Readings: Julia Ward Howe’s Mother’s Day Proclamation; Revelations of Love, by Julian of Norwich Chapter 26; John 14:1-14

Listen to the sermon here

“I myselfam the Way—I Am Truth, and I am Life. NO one comes to Abba God but through me.” Over the course of two millennia, the ways in which these words have been interpreted by far too many people who insist that they are “Christian” is enough to make most mothers, be they Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Shikh, Jew, atheist, or agnostic. It seems to me, that to insist that it’s Jesus’ Way or the highway, as if Christians have the exclusive way of being in the world, violates the basic principles of the image we have of what it means to be a good mother.  Today, while we celebrate all the various stereotypes of what it means to be or to have a good mother, I don’t think any of you would hold point to the image of a mother who favoured one of her children to the exclusion of her other children. Yet somehow, the image of God as “Father” of us all, is messed up with the notion of a God who insists on a particular Way of being in the world, a way of being that believes particular things about who Jesus of Nazareth is, was, and ever more shall be; a way of being that insists that only those who believe particular things about Jesus will be welcomed into God’s household. The Good News is, that New Testament scholars have learned a great deal about this passage that contradicts the so-called “traditional interpretations” of this text. New Testament scholars begin by teaching us that these words attributed to Jesus, were in fact written some 70 plus years after Jesus’ crucifixion by an anonymous story-teller that we call John, who in all likelihood put these words into the mouth of Jesus in order to address a particular problem in the community to which this story is addressed.

But, more important than the realization that Jesus may never have actually said these words is the reality that taken out of context and proclaimed in ways that exclude some people at the expense of others, these words fail to express the very ideas of inclusion that the anonymous story-teller that we call John was trying to express to his community in the first place. For as the anonymous gospel storyteller that we call John insists:

“In God’s house there are many dwelling places; otherwise, how could I have told you that I was going to prepare a place for you? I am indeed going to prepare a place for you and then I will come back to take you with me, that where I am there you may be as well.

I suspect that part of the reason that some people are so willing to portray God as the kind of Father who would shut the door on the vast majority of human-beings, has something to do with the ways in which the reality that we call God has been imagined for far too long. So, on the day that we honour our mothers, let me remind us all, about the ways in which our tradition has failed to imagine the Source of our Being in ways expand our vision of the LOVE that is God.

In the beginning, that’s right. Genesis chapter one, verse one.
In the beginning God;
that’s God with a capital “G” in English.
But in Hebrewit’s just “el” no capital yet.
Just “el” the generic Semitic wordfor a god.
In the beginning “el” created the heavens and the earth.
Now the earth was a formless void.
Void,“tohu w’ bohu” in  Hebrew a squishy, damp cavern; reminiscent of a womb.
The earth was a formless void, there was darkness over the deep.
Tehom  dark waters.
And ‘el’s” spirit hovered over the water.
Spirit,rauach, the feminine for breath.
El’s feminine breath hovered over the tohu w bohu.
When suddenly, god speaks and there is light and the waters divide or are broken, depending on how you translate it, and all sorts of life comes teaming forth.
Five days of labour; labour get it!
Five days of labour and finally ‘el’ is ready:
“Let us make adam”
“adam” which literally means earth creature.
And so el takes some ha adama which is literally earth;    dirt.
The pun is lost in our English translations but its actually funny in Hebrew.
El takes a chunk of earth and creates the earth creature in the in the very image of the divine.
Inthe image of God, God created them.
That’s right them, that’s what it actually says in the Hebrew text of Genesis:
In the image of God, God created them, male and female God created them.
And then God blessed them.
God blessed them male and female.
Male and female made in the very image of the Creator.
Could this mean that in the eyes of our ancestors in faith, the Creator is beyond gender?
But remember, there’s another creation story in chapter two of Genesis.
This one says that the“Lord God” made the earth and the heavens.
This creation story says that the “Lord God”formed “man” out of the dust of the earth.
The “Lord God,” everyone knows that lords are men, so the Lord God is clearly male.
Maybe.
But then again Lord God is only an English translation of the Hebrewword, “elohim”.
You’ll never guess what “elohim” literally means in Hebrew.
It’s the plural form of the feminine noun for majesty.
Sound male to you.
Well it was male enough for the male translators who worked for King James.
But read just a little further to chapter 17 of Genesis.
When the Lord, that’s Elohim when Elohim first enters into a covenant with Abraham.
“When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him,
“I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless.
And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.”
God Almighty, from the Hebrew, El Shaddai.
El Shaddai, finally we have a name for this God, this el.
Shaddai, the feminine plural for breast.
El Shaddailiterally translated means God with breasts, or Breasted God.
Good thing those translators chose to translate that one as God Almighty,
because you wouldn’t want people to think that God has breasts.
Those translators sure had their work cut out for them.
Over and over again in the Old Testament the Hebrew uses the word“rechem” to describe god’s love.
Now God’s love is a very important concept.
Remember later in the New Testament God is defined by love.
“God is love.”
Well in the Old Testament, God’s love is prefaced by the word “rechem” and those clever translators, had to fix that one cause rechem is the Hebrew word for womb.
You can’t have God Almighty having breasts and you sure can’t have God’s love describedas “womb love” so what did those guys do?
So, the next time you read the words mercy or compassion in the Old Testament remember, chances are it’s really “rechem”.
I suspect that, womb love became merciful, because the only other way to describe womb love is“motherly love” and we can’t have that, now can we?
Elohim,majesty.
El Shaddai breasted one.
Rechem “ womb love” motherly love.
And I haven’t even gotten to the really interesting parts, so I don’t really have time to tell you that God’s Spirit, well you probably already guessed or remembered that,
The Holy Spirit in Hebrew was rauach, a feminine noun for breath, breath, wind
 and even in Greek pneumani is a feminine nounfor breath, wind or spirit, but by the time the church gets around to translating the Bible into Latin, and before you know it the Holy Spirit becomes a he.
But I don’t have time to go into that, so let’s fast forward to the book of Proverbs.
And there you have the stories of God’s wisdom.
Chokma in Hebrew, a feminine name.
Sophiain Greek, also a feminine name that in our English translations becomes the noun “wisdom”.
But I digress, because everybody knows we believe in God the Father the Almighty, Jesus Christ the only Son of God and the Holy Spirit, the Lord the giver of life who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
Now don’t get excited, I’m not about to commit heresy, not yet anyway.
The expression of the Trinity as three male persons is not in and of itself wrong.
Men are indeed created in the image of God and maleness can and indeed shouldbe used as a symbol for God.
However, the tenaciously exclusive use of male symbols or images for God has reached the point of idolatry.
God is not male.
God is not female.
God is beyond gender.
All our feeble attempts to describe God with language fail to express the immense wonder of our God.
To date, I still think the Hindus have the best way of expressing the very nature of our God.
In Hindu literature we find goddescribed as:  “beyond the beyond, and beyond that also.”
We simply have no words.
So, our attempts to capture God in words fail.
Our images of God are incomplete like peering through a glass darkly.
No wonder our ancient ancestors portrayed  God as the one who forbids us to worship idols.
We cannot create an image of God and worship that image and expect to have a relationship with more than a pale reflection of our God.
In the bookof Proverbs: Chokma, Sophia, Wisdom is personified. She becomes an expression of God’s Wisdom. The writer of Proverbs urges us to:
“Acquire Sophia, acquire perception, never forget her, never deviate from my words.
Do not desert her, she will keep you safe, love her, she will watch over you.”
In the creation story from the Book of Proverbs, Sophia calls aloud in the streets, she raises her voice in the public squares; she calls out in the street corners, she delivers her message at the city gates, “You ignorant people, how much longer will you cling to your ignorance?
How much longer will mockers revel in their mocking and fools hold knowledge contemptible? Pay attention to my warning:  now I will pour out my heart to you, and tell you what I have to say.”
“From everlasting I was firmly set, from the beginning, before earth came into being.
The deep was not, when I was born, there were no springs to gush with water.
Before the mountains were settled, before the hills, I came to birth; before God made the Earth, the countryside, or the first grains of the worlds dust.
When God fixed the heavens firm, I was there, when God drew a ring on the surface of the deep, when God thickened the clouds above, when God assigned the sea its boundaries—and the waters will not invade the shore—when God laid down the foundations of the earth,
I was by God’s side, a master worker; and I was daily God’s delight, rejoicing before God always, rejoicing in God’s inhabited world and delighting in the human race.
Happy the one who listens to me,”
The ancient Hebrews had a symbol for Chokma, she was often portrayed as a dove. Sophia God’s wisdom and the rauach , the spirit of God are intimately connected in the ancient stories that try to make sense of who God is.

Throughoutthe scriptures God is portrayed as a strong mother, labouring to give birth, determined to protect her young. Suckling and nurturing the children of God at her breasts. These feminine images of God can all be found in the Bible. But still these feminine images disturbed the powers that be. So much so that scholars now believe that the evidence of the motherly attributes of God were indeed suppressed by the religious authorities. So, much so that by  the turn of the first century when the author of the Gospel of John sat down to write his account of creation,  God’s wisdom, Sophia who had a reputation for playfulness had to take on a more reasonable tone. And so wisdom became reason, the Greek word for reason is logos. Sophia becomes logos, logos has two meanings in Greek, it can mean either reason or word.

In the beginning was the reason, and the reason was with God, and the reason was God.

Reason, Wisdom, no matter how you express it, when the Word becomes flesh and lives among us it is still Jesus you’re talking about.

The links between Jesus and Sophia are many. That’s a whole other sermon. Suffice it to say that our idolatrous preoccupation with the image of that bearded old man in the sky fails to take the Bible seriously.

The church has deprived the people of God of the tender images of our God. So much so that sometimes I feel like a motherless child. We have grown up in the faith as motherless people living in a single parent universe headed by God our Father.

Psychologists warn us that in children the “loss of a mother is experienced as a loss of safety, security, nurture, comfort and joy. A child without a mother often fails to know itself as valued, or precious and often feels unworthy of love. How might our lives have been different if deep within us, we carried an image of El Shaddai, the Breasted One, Mother of Us All, and when things were bad we could nestle in her tender embrace? Men and women could both turn to El Shaddai and I suspect that the church would be a different place. The Vatican would certainly be different. Just imagine women and men created in the image of God, walking the halls of the Vatican; or what about women and men created in the image of God with an understanding of their own equality haunting the hallways of fundamentalist institutions.

Wisdom/Sophia is calling; calling us beyond the boundaries of our language and beyond the images we have created. Remember the words of the anonymous storyteller that we call John attributed to Jesus: “In God’s house there are many dwelling places; otherwise, how could I have told you that I was going to prepare a place for you?” Now, try to imagine what the welcoming of El Shaddai might look like as the Breasted One welcomes all her children into the household of God who is LOVE. Imagine, if you will, Jesus the Christ, God’s Sophia, describing herself as the Way, the Truth, and the Life, how might we emulate the Way of Christ, the truth of Christ, and the Life of Christ in any other way, than the way in which the anonymous story-teller that we call John portrayed Jesus, as the ONE in whom God was made visible, in the way that he lived and moved about the earth, tending to the needs of everyone he encountered, with compassion, ah there’s that word again, compassion, womb-like LOVE.

Let the Ruach of the Breasted ONE be who she will be, the Mother of us all, the ONE who is now and ever more shall be womb-like LOVE.

Breasted ONE – a Mothers’ Day sermon – John 14:1-14

Readings: Julia Ward Howe’s Mother’s Day Proclamation; Revelations of Love, by Julian of Norwich Chapter 26; John 14:1-14

Listen to the sermon here

What a Joke: These Stories Never Actually Happened! – a sermon for the First Sunday in Lent – Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7, Matthew 4:1-11

Eve & AdamI am indebted to the exegetical work of John Holbert for the insights into Hebrew humour!

Each year as Lent approaches, I find myself flirting with the idea of giving up Lent for Lent. Lent is just too much work. For centuries, during Lent the church has emphasized so many concepts that seem alien to the 21st century mind. Each year during Lent preachers are required to undertake the unenviable task of unpacking unpopular, seemingly antiquated concepts in an effort to encourage the contemporary churchgoer to entertain the equally antiquated rituals of Lent. I mean Christmas and Easter might attract a few more people to our sanctuary, but how do you attract people with talk about repentance or fasting? Just look at our readings for this morning. Temptation is the order for toady. Eve and Adam succumbing to temptation, the Apostle Paul prattling on, heaping condemnation upon the first parents for having given in to temptation, and then Jesus himself resisting temptation from non-other than the Devil. Not exactly cheery stuff designed to bring comfort on a cold damp winter morning, where apart from the time change, there are very few signs of a longed for spring.

But Lent has arrived and so we must tuck into this dish of temptation hoping that it will reveal some hint of the promise of what lays beyond our long Lenten journey as we travel toward Easter’s resurrection joy. But these are not easy readings to unpack.

I could begin by warning against taking these texts literally. But you have heard warnings against taking the text literally and I know that you understand that the story about Eve and Adam is just a story. It never really happened. Most of you, even though you might be tempted to think that Jesus literally went out into the wilderness and was tempted by the Devil, most of you have long since realized that the Devil doesn’t actually exist. If you’re still tempted to believe that this story actually happened, well, the fact that in the story itself, Jesus goes out into the desert all by himself ought to at least make you pause to ask, who wrote this story down, if there was nobody there but Jesus and the Devil?

These stories are just that, they are stories. In the words of Marcus Borg, “The events in these stories never actually happened. But the events in these stories are always happening.” Let me say that again, lest there be any doubt: They never actually happened, but they are always happening. That’s what makes these stories such great stories. The stuff in these stories is always happening over and over again. Temptation is the stuff of our lives. Each and every one of us, each and every day struggles with temptation, each and every one of us and all of us together as humanity. This grand human experiment that we are caught up in requires that we all struggle with temptation. Continue reading

Practicing Resurrection: Sophia/Wisdom – a sermon for Mothers’ Day

Christ Sophia pastorDawnThe sermon hymn: “When Masks of God Both Age and Die” can be found here

Listen to the Mothers’ Day sermon here

El Shaddai, Eloheim, Rauach, Chokma, Rechem, YAHWEH, these are the ancient biblical Hebrew names for the reality that we call God. El Shaddai which translates as “she – breasted one, ”Eloheim which is the feminine plural for “majesty,”  Rauach a feminine word for “wind” “breath” “spirit,” Chokma, a feminine word for “wisdom.” Rechem  also a feminine word which translates as “ womb love” mother love, compassion. YAHWEH – I AM, WHO AM or I shall be who I shall be Ancient biblical Hebrew names for the reality that we call God.

During the time of Jesus there was another name for God that was used by the Jewish people:  El Shekinah which translates as “she who dwells among us.” There were other  words for the reality that we call God which the writers of the New Testament would have been so familiar with; Greek words like: Theos — a feminine noun which translates simply as “God,” Sophia – which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word Rauach for “Wisdom,” Pnumena – the feminine noun which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word Chokma which means: wind, breath or spirit.   That these names for the reality that we call God are all feminine nouns is remarkable when you look at how these words were translated by the Roman Empire into Latin: Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Stripped of her breasts and her womb-love, the One we call God, the Chokma who Dwells among us, is given the aura of a powerful young Roman God as the word for breasts is translated as “Almighty” and whose Rechem – womb-love is reserved for those who fear HIM.

Yet despite the Empire’s attempt to penetrate the sacred feminine with masculinity’s youthful vigor, (yes, I did mean that pun) this reality we call God will age over the centuries to become a bearded old grandfather-like figure who lives up there somewhere, and woe to those who dare to expose His transgendered history; for God is male and that’s that. The image of the great I AM erected by the male hierarchy to be worshipped and glorified, forever and ever, as Father, Son, and yes, even the nebulous Holy Spirit becomes HE in order to penetrate His Bride the church.  No room for talk of breasts or womb as SHE who dwells among us, Chokma, Sophia, Wisdom is banished to the mists of time. That is until women began to be admitted to the sacred halls of the academy; until women began in significant numbers to study the ancient texts and unravel the ancient languages and begin to question the work of their male predecessors and contemporaries. Female academics, female theologians, and female translators’ questions lead to the discover of the long hidden, often denied, and ever present breasts and womb which now that they have been exposed will never again be cast out from their dwelling place among us. Wisdom, Sophia has been emancipated she is woman hear her roar. Continue reading

Practicing Resurrection: Sophia/Wisdom – a sermon for Mothers’ Day

Christ Sophia pastorDawnThe sermon hymn: “When Masks of God Both Age and Die” can be found here

Listen to the Mothers’ Day sermon here

What a Joke: These Stories Never Actually Happened! – a sermon for the First Sunday in Lent – Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7, Matthew 4:1-11

Eve & AdamI am indebted to the exegetical work of John Holbert for the insights into Hebrew humour!

Each year as Lent approaches, I find myself flirting with the idea of giving up Lent for Lent. Lent is just too much work. For centuries, during Lent the church has emphasized so many concepts that seem alien to the 21st century mind. Each year during Lent preachers are required to undertake the unenviable task of unpacking unpopular, seemingly antiquated concepts in an effort to encourage the contemporary churchgoer to entertain the equally antiquated rituals of Lent. I mean Christmas and Easter might attract a few more people to our sanctuary, but how do you attract people with talk about repentance or fasting? Just look at our readings for this morning. Temptation is the order for toady. Eve and Adam succumbing to temptation, the Apostle Paul prattling on, heaping condemnation upon the first parents for having given in to temptation, and then Jesus himself resisting temptation from non-other than the Devil. Not exactly cheery stuff designed to bring comfort on a cold damp winter morning, where apart from the time change, there are very few signs of a longed for spring.

But Lent has arrived and so we must tuck into this dish of temptation hoping that it will reveal some hint of the promise of what lays beyond our long Lenten journey as we travel toward Easter’s resurrection joy. But these are not easy readings to unpack.

I could begin by warning against taking these texts literally. But you have heard warnings against taking the text literally and I know that you understand that the story about Eve and Adam is just a story. It never really happened. Most of you, even though you might be tempted to think that Jesus literally went out into the wilderness and was tempted by the Devil, most of you have long since realized that the Devil doesn’t actually exist. If you’re still tempted to believe that this story actually happened, well, the fact that in the story itself, Jesus goes out into the desert all by himself ought to at least make you pause to ask, who wrote this story down, if there was nobody there but Jesus and the Devil?

These stories are just that, they are stories. In the words of Marcus Borg, “The events in these stories never actually happened. But the events in these stories are always happening.” Let me say that again, lest there be any doubt: They never actually happened, but they are always happening. That’s what makes these stories such great stories. The stuff in these stories is always happening over and over again. Temptation is the stuff of our lives. Each and every one of us, each and every day struggles with temptation, each and every one of us and all of us together as humanity. This grand human experiment that we are caught up in requires that we all struggle with temptation. Continue reading

Another Option for Preaching on Mothers’ Day – Bring Many Names

Until we can fully recover images and names for God that include the feminine, it will continue to be difficult for many to see the face of God in women and girls. Mothers’ Day is an opportunity for preachers to uncover, explore and proclaim the feminine names, attributes, images and activities of the Divine. This Sunday we will begin our liturgy by singing “Bring Many Names” (Voices United Hymnal), we will sing an invocation to Sophia “Come, Sophia” (Miriam Therese Winter), “Sing Lo! Sing, O Sophia” (Miriam Therese Winter), acclaim women of faith in song with “Come Celebrate the Women” (Shirley Erna Murray), praise the Breasted One with our Hymn of the Day, “Womb of Life” (Ruth Duck), after communion we will “Rock-a My soul in the Bosom of She Who Is” (Miriam Theresa Winter) and send folks off rejoicing to “Faith of Our Mothers”. (copyright laws prevent me from posting the music, so message me and I’ll hook you up)

I offer this repost to inspire the bold women and lovers of women to proclaim the love of She Who Dwells Among Us this Mothers’ Day!

GOD’s Radical Mastectomy

divine feminine 3Recently, I found myself in conversation with a young woman who insisted that inclusive language for God is nothing more than political correctness that has been imposed upon the church by feminists. She insisted that because women have now achieved equality with men, the need for inclusive language for God has served its purpose and need no longer be of concern to worship leaders. I am grateful that my age afforded me the maturity not to explode on this young woman who can well afford her opinion as a direct result of some of the language battles that I and my contemporaries struggled to overcome while she was but knee high to a grasshopper. Our conversation has stuck with me and caused me to review some things that I wrote long ago about the impact our language has not only on our images of the Divine but on the way we live together in community. What follows is a portion of a piece I wrote about the disappearance of the Breasted One as a name for God.

“We believe in one God, the Father the Almighty… We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father…  We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.  With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified.  He has spoken through the prophets. In this God:  “We believe” and “His kingdom will have no end!”  God in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, our blessed Trinity.  As we proclaim our faith in the words of the Nicene, Apostles’, or (heaven forbid) the Athanasian creeds we proclaim a particular image of the Triune God.  For generations,  a majority of Christians have assumed all three persons in this Trinity are male.  Until recently this assumption has resulted in the exclusive use of male images, symbols and pronouns to represent the Triune God which Christians worship.  God has been declared to be male.  This is not an easy declaration to make.  In order to make such a declaration, many of God’s attributes which are revealed in the biblical accounts have been eradicated from the Christian tradition. 

     Long before the Christian church began to formulate its exclusively male image of the triune God, the Hebrew people used several words to refer to God.  The earliest of these words is “El” which is the generic Semitic word for a god.   

to read the more click here

How Did She Who Has Breasts Become God Almighty?

GOD’s Radical Mastectomy

divine feminine 3Recently, I found myself in conversation with a young woman who insisted that inclusive language for God is nothing more than political correctness that has been imposed upon the church by feminists. She insisted that because women have now achieved equality with men, the need for inclusive language for God has served its purpose and need no longer be of concern to worship leaders. I am grateful that my age afforded me the maturity not to explode on this young woman who can well afford her opinion as a direct result of some of the language battles that I and my contemporaries struggled to overcome while she was but knee high to a grasshopper. Our conversation has stuck with me and caused me to review some things that I wrote long ago about the impact our language has not only on our images of the Divine but on the way we live together in community. What follows is a portion of a piece I wrote about the disappearance of the Breasted One as a name for God.

“We believe in one God, the Father the Almighty… We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father…  We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.  With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified.  He has spoken through the prophets.[1]  In this God:  “We believe” and “His kingdom will have no end!”  God in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, our blessed Trinity.  As we proclaim our faith in the words of the Nicene, Apostles’, or (heaven forbid) the Athanasian creeds we proclaim a particular image of the Triune God.  For generations,  a majority of Christians have assumed all three persons in this Trinity are male.  Until recently this assumption has resulted in the exclusive use of male images, symbols and pronouns to represent the Triune God which Christians worship.  God has been declared to be male.  This is not an easy declaration to make.  In order to make such a declaration, many of God’s attributes which are revealed in the biblical accounts have been eradicated from the Christian tradition. 

     Long before the Christian church began to formulate its exclusively male image of the triune God, the Hebrew people used several words to refer to God.  The earliest of these words is “El” which is the generic Semitic word for a god.   

to read the more click here